Why baking clubs are the new fool-proof recipe for happiness!

Why baking clubs are the new fool-proof recipe for happiness!

My lime and ginger drizzle cake is causing me some concern. It looked all right when I got it out of the oven late last night — neither sunk nor burnt — and the skewer with which I stabbed it rather too many times came out clean, like the recipe said it should.

But it cannot be denied that it has the weight, appearance, and possible consistency, of a common household brick. And now — placed alongside a cheeky berry polenta creation, an elegant Earl Grey affair, and a blushing papaya cheesecake — it also looks rather like a poor country cousin at a society wedding.

Surreptitiously, I move it a bit further to the back of the table upon which all the cakes are arranged, and hope nobody feels obliged to try it. I comfort myself that at least no one will be paying any money for a slice. Because this is not a school cake sale, nor a church fete.

Taking the cake: From left, Gina Lewis, Sharon Parsons and Beth Johnson with their desserts

Taking the cake: From left, Gina Lewis, Sharon Parsons and Beth Johnson with their desserts

Taking the cake: From left, Gina Lewis, Sharon Parsons and Beth Johnson with their desserts

Taking the cake: From left, Gina Lewis, Sharon Parsons and Beth Johnson with their desserts

Rather I — and my drizzle — have come along to enjoy an afternoon with the Bristol branch of the Clandestine Cake Club (CCC), a nationwide initiative devised by Lynn Hill, 61, from Leeds just over a year ago.

With 19 branches and 1,000 members aged from 20 upwards — including a growing number of men — the CCC is at the front-line of the latest social trend to sweep Britain.

Forget book clubs, it’s cake clubs that are on the rise. Fuelled by the likes of The Great British Bake Off, which saw some four million viewers tuning in every week, our passion for home baking continues to grow unabated.

Since the BBC2 series began, retailer John Lewis has reported a 15 per cent rise in sales of tins and trays and Lakeland’s sales of traditional baking equipment like cake tins and icing bags soared a third in 2011, while supermarkets are dedicating more shelf space to specialist baking ingredients.

Even my Dorset village is joining in — neighbours are setting up a cake club for us all to join.

For Lynn Hill the appeal of her club is obvious. ‘It just seemed like a nice thing to do,’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘I mean, all of us enjoy a chat over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, don’t we’

And she believes that after years of favouring shop-bought, we’re finally realising a rather obvious fact: ‘Made with care and good ingredients, a freshly-made cake can’t be beaten. And not least, baking is really enjoyable.’

Bake off: The Bristol Clandestine Cake Club attendees with their 'new year, new cake' creations

Bake off: The Bristol Clandestine Cake Club attendees with their 'new year, new cake' creations

Anyone interested in organising an event under the CCC banner is provided with a template to ensure it follows the same, um, recipe.

‘It’s meant to be fun, so there are only a few guidelines,’ explains Lynn. ‘For instance, we’ve banned the likes of cup cakes, tray bakes, pies and brownies because we want to encourage proper cake-making, and we like to keep the venue a secret until just a few days before the event to make it all the more intriguing.

‘Those who have registered for events in their area receive an email a couple of days before with details of the location. It’s often in a cafe or tearoom — they supply the space, and in return the club members buy their beverages from them.’

There are 14 of us at today’s gathering — nine bakers, plus five friends who have come along to provide support (oh, and possibly enjoy a slice or two as well).

LIME AND GINGER DRIZZLE

Earl Grey

Hummingbird

Almond and kiwi sponge

Piece of cake: From left, lime and ginger drizzle, Earl Grey, Hummingbird and Almond and kiwi sponge

Held at the Papadeli Cafe in Bristol’s Royal West of England Academy, this is the second event in the city organised by Gina Thomas, a 42-year-old mother of one, who volunteered her services after seeing photos of her sister-in-law at one of Manchester’s CCC events.

‘I was envious because it looked brilliant, everyone seemed to be having lots of fun, so I decided to set one up myself,’ she explains. ‘My first event was a bit nerve-racking, but great on the day — how can it fail when everyone loves the reason we’re here’

WHO KNEW

The UK baking sector has an annual value of 576million, with 28 per cent of people baking at least once a week

Indeed. Quicker that you can say, ‘Who’s for cake’, this group of Bristol baking devotees — most of whom have never met beforehand — are chatting away like old cooking comrades.

Favourite recipes and top tips are exchanged, disasters and successes shared… and of course, the serious business of sampling all the cakes gets underway.

Most CCC events have a theme and Gina has chosen ‘New year, new cake’ for this one, which basically means having a crack at a recipe you haven’t tried before. I think we’ve got off lightly — the Newcastle-upon-Tyne branch is planning an event called ‘If you were a cake, what cake would you be’ (oh, crumbs!) — but there are some ambitious efforts today, nevertheless.

Cooking comrades: Members share baking tips while tucking into the fruits of their labours

Cooking comrades: Members share baking tips while tucking into the fruits of their labours

Peg Mattock, 49, who works in finance, has created a wickedly rich chocolate confection that receives a rapturous reception, even though she claims not to have a sweet tooth herself, and I’m full of admiration for Kurtis Beaumont’s exotic hummingbird cake — a glorious gluten-free masterpiece yielding chunks of pineapple and banana.

Izzi Day, 27, a student midwife, has baked since she was a child. ‘There’s something about a big bowl and a wooden spoon that makes me happy,’ she explains, as she unveils a homely apple cake.

Still warm from the oven, its aroma evokes a collective sigh of appreciation. ‘It’s lovely to get that sort of reaction,’ she says. ‘I love seeing the look on everyone’s faces when I take a cake into work!’

Clandestine cakes: The venues of the meetings are kept secret until the last minute

Clandestine cakes: The venues of the meetings are kept secret until the last minute

While Beth Johnson, 23, a chemistry
masters student (and mistress of the cherry polenta creation) nods in
agreement. ‘But you can never make a good cake if you’re angry,’ she
says sagely. ‘You need to bake with love — otherwise it just doesn’t
work.’

It’s true! Such is the alchemy of cake-making — the likes of butter, flour, eggs magically transformed by heat into something truly delectable — that a calm, methodical approach is surely essential. S

lamming around the kitchen in a temper as you resentfully bash together a battenburg, or crossly assemble a death by chocolate is, surely, a recipe for disaster.

I also found the process of creating my drizzle cake oddly therapeutic. As I carefully weighed out the ingredients, lined the tin and warmed the bowl (having always been taught to keep equipment cool for pastry, warm for cakes) long-forgotten phrases from my home economic lessons — ‘Using a metal spoon, gently fold the flour into the mixture in a figure of eight’ — came back to me.

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Passed the taste test: Sandra was delighted her lime and ginger cake was well-received

‘Mmm — nice and simple,’ he declares. ‘Good for a recovering invalid.’

There is a small, tense silence. Bland and easily digestible isn’t the sort of compliment I was looking for. I remember what Beth said and decide I am definitely not in the right mood to start making another cake just yet…

For more information, go to www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk